Top Dawg Entertainment has quickly become the biggest hip-hop label on the West Coast in the last few years, and for good reason. Their lineup is full of stars, beginning with the “good Compton boy” Kendrick Lamar, the old-school gangsters Jay Rock and Schoolboy Q and the hippy conspiracy theorist Ab-Soul, the four making up Black Hippy Crew. They have now added a Southern tinge in the form of Isaiah Rashad (who recently released an excellent debut EP) and hired the eerie vocalist SZA. Things are only looking up for TDE and their affiliates, and with Schoolboy Q finally releasing his long-awaited follow-up to Habits and Contradictions, I don’t see the label plummeting any time soon. Oxymoron lives up (mostly) to the hype, featuring some insane production, an impressive guest list, and hooks that will have any Q fan yelling “GANGSTA GANGSTA GANGSTA” at the top of their lungs for weeks.
Schoolboy has always been able to balance the two musical forces that float around in the rapper’s head, and Oxymoron is no different. You’ve got the party-animal Q who screams “YAWK” and brands hooks in your brain that would sound just plain silly from any other rapper in the game today. It’s this half of Q that makes Oxymoron so much fun, but it’s his other half that gives the tracks depth. He ingeniously implements his adorable daughter in voice-overs on a few of the tracks that give you goosebumps, and spits some anecdotes that will leave your head spinning. Unfortunately it’s this half of Q that shows up the least on Oxymoron, and while the bangers on the album are great fun, that introspective Schoolboy who shed light on his troubled, gang-affiliated past isn’t as present here as on Habits and Contradictions.
A lot of Oxymoron focuses on Q’s inability to live the life of an up-and-coming rapper and be a father at the same time. “Prescription/Oxymoron” is perhaps the best example of this struggle, and is also one of the best tracks on the album. It’s a one-two punch of a track that begins with Q naming each prescription drug he’s ingested, ignoring calls from daughter and mother alike as he slips further and further into an overdose. The verses are interrupted by his daughter, Joy, asking her Daddy if he is okay. Lyrics like this almost feel like a cry for help – that is, until the beat drops and Q gives us a detailed version of his drug-dealing life: “What you know about a pill, plus a eight-ball/ You gotta re-up 50 times just to get a rack off, ungh.”
But while Q’s lifestyle is far from healthy, his Crip and party-boy lyrics allow him to have a lot of fun on some of the tracks. “The Purge” has one of the sickest beats on the album and brings Earl Sweatshirt’s “Centurion” to mind, if only because of Tyler, the Creator’s awesome hook. The track lets Q go full-on gangster: “Real Crippy since I hopped off the swing/ With my strap, that’s my peace offering/ Five shots get rung out, five bodies falling,” providing one of the more violent songs on the LP. There’s also never a lack of drug references, and from listing various prescription pills to kilos of cocaine, Schoolboy lets the listener know he doesn’t mess around. In “Break the Bank” he lets us know that he was already wealthy simply with drugs: “Fuck rap I’ve been rich, crack by my stickshift,” and “Blind Threats” has him hiding them from police: “Sewer full of drugs when the toilet digests/ From the cop raid, all can relate from the streets.”
But even through all the hard words and drug-addled frenzies, Schoolboy still includes some more radio-friendly material here and there on Oxymoron. Popular single “Collard Greens” has Q and Kendrick drinking, smoking and obviously having relations with various beautiful women. It’s probably the most accessible track on the album and Kendrick’s verse is worth the listen alone. “Hell of a Night” brings the listener to the club, and is probably the only song on Oxymoron that you might hear at a party other than “Collard Greens”. It has an eerie sound with Q letting loose for a night of drinking and dancing: “Take a sip with me/ Now move your hips with me/ Now make it dip for me.” It’s one of the more generic songs Oxymoron has to offer, but provides a breath of fresh air on what is otherwise a pretty dense album.
There’s a line in “Break the Bank” in which Q calls out his fellow TDE artist: “Tell Kendrick move from the throne, I came for it.” The TDE members may be friends, but the competition is what drives them to make better and better music. Kendrick’s good kid, m.A.A.d city set the standard for modern hip-hop, and Schoolboy has every right to try and take him off the throne, as he puts it. For anyone hoping for this to happen, you may be disappointed. Oxymoron is a great album, and to be honest, doesn’t have a single bad track on it. It may just be Q’s best album to date, but just barely. Habits and Contradictions is a hard album to beat in itself, and Q stays too close to the sound he used on that album to really blow anybody away, much less make it as great as GKMC. Oxymoron is a great Schoolboy Q album, but it’s far from a classic hip-hop album. Hopefully this competitiveness pushes his music forward even more this next time around, because Schoolboy Q absolutely has the talent to make a masterpiece, he just has to take what he knows and bring it to an even higher level.